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TheHessianHistorian

What are the hottest specialties in history right now?

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As a specialist in early modern German social history, I sometimes wonder how my subdisciplines are fairing in the history field right now. What would you say are some particularly "hot" specialties in history right now? How about some particularly "not hot" specialties?

I've heard from some folks that history of mass incarceration is a burgeoning subject, while general American history is kind of oversaturated and dry right now. What are other people hearing?

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Gender and race in the history of medicine/science/technology have become very popular approaches, though there are some rumblings that the reductivist approach to gender is in trouble (just from talking to more senior scholars). Sociological approaches remain popular, though that's been the case since the mid-1980s.

Questions about knowledge-making and circulation have, once again, become important. Pablo Gomez's The Experiential Caribbean, while not re-opening the debate, has made a very significant impact.

It may be easier to speak about what's not popular: American political history is a vanishingly small field, as are traditional approaches to diplomatic history. Labor history is in real trouble, and intellectual history, which was very popular in the mid-20th century has fallen off.

 

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Global history and commodity histories (making a reemergence) have been gaining traction in the past decade. Studies of the Brezhnev era (ranging all scopes) are starting to be published because of archive access. Communist China is slowly starting to open its archive access, too. In general, there will be a lot of histories about the "East" and "South" published over the coming decade because of archive access and younger historians challenging older assumptions, which were partially based on American and Western archives. 

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China is actually closing and restricting a lot of archives, ever since Xi Jinping came to power. I've heard that even Qing archives are being restricted, mainly as a reaction against the New Qing History.

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2 hours ago, lordtiandao said:

China is actually closing and restricting a lot of archives, ever since Xi Jinping came to power. I've heard that even Qing archives are being restricted, mainly as a reaction against the New Qing History.

That is the exact opposite of what I have heard. My professor gained access to the Chinese archives and is doing a research visit this summer. Another professor from my program returned from a visit to the Chinese archives 3 months ago. Both of them said that the archives were becoming more open for histories before the Cultural Revolution. After and during the revolution is a different story and will be an issue until "regime-change."

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It's not so much that US history isn't a growth field as it is US history PhDs overproduce for the market by a factor of 4:1.

I'd say environmental history is really big right now, as well as transnational/Atlantic World history and east Asian history. Digital history is becoming more of a Hilfswissenshaft than a discipline in its own right (rightly so, IMO), and the general resurgence in quant seems to be dying back down a bit. 

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8 hours ago, Tigla said:

That is the exact opposite of what I have heard. My professor gained access to the Chinese archives and is doing a research visit this summer. Another professor from my program returned from a visit to the Chinese archives 3 months ago. Both of them said that the archives were becoming more open for histories before the Cultural Revolution. After and during the revolution is a different story and will be an issue until "regime-change."

That would be great if it's true. I haven't had to do archival research yet, but I envision I will in the future.

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6 hours ago, telkanuru said:

. Digital history is becoming more of a Hilfswissenshaft than a discipline in its own right (rightly so, IMO), and the general resurgence in quant seems to be dying back down a bit. 

The quantitative resurgence has been quashed in Wisconsin. Students can't use statistics in lieu of language requirements any longer.

As for digital history, I agree with you. A historian of technology has said that there's renewed skepticism about the usefulness of digital humanities.

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12 minutes ago, psstein said:

The quantitative resurgence has been quashed in Wisconsin. Students can't use statistics in lieu of language requirements any longer.

As for digital history, I agree with you. A historian of technology has said that there's renewed skepticism about the usefulness of digital humanities.

I don't get digital history. I also don't really do quantitative methods.  I've done it for two classes- I used sabermetrics for my baseball history paper (of course) and I took a quantitative methods of political science course and applied Hofstede's Masculinity Index to worldwide parliamentary elections from 1900-2012. The poli sci class didn't help too much because the prof that taught it was a qualitative political scientist and had failed quant methods herself three times in undergrad.  She got so frustrated with SPSS (which I do like) that she just told us that when we became real political scientists to just "hire a statistician" and forget about it. 

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Transnational, global, most definitely.  Empires, different types of migrations, environmental.  The "Global South", East Asia, Middle East are all desirable.  Just read H-Net Job Guide and you'll see a pattern.  Interestingly enough, I sometimes feel like Early Modern European history is still in fair demand (because one can teach global history before 18th century).

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3 hours ago, TMP said:

Interestingly enough, I sometimes feel like Early Modern European history is still in fair demand (because one can teach global history before 18th century).

I think it's more of a growth field than is often thought, but more because of global implications.

At the AHA, there was a session called "Writing Global History in Early Modern Europe."

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1 hour ago, psstein said:

I think it's more of a growth field than is often thought, but more because of global implications.

At the AHA, there was a session called "Writing Global History in Early Modern Europe."

That makes me feel a little better. I love EME and would likely concentrate on the Mediterranean- so, Europe, Middle East, North Africa.

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On 1/11/2018 at 8:33 PM, TheHessianHistorian said:

As a specialist in early modern German social history, I sometimes wonder how my subdisciplines are fairing in the history field right now. What would you say are some particularly "hot" specialties in history right now? How about some particularly "not hot" specialties?

I've heard from some folks that history of mass incarceration is a burgeoning subject, while general American history is kind of oversaturated and dry right now. What are other people hearing?

Atlanticist programs are really big right now. 

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On 1/13/2018 at 9:14 PM, khigh said:

That makes me feel a little better. I love EME and would likely concentrate on the Mediterranean- so, Europe, Middle East, North Africa.

As with everything in academia, it depends how you position it. Braudel's Annales school may be ripe for a comeback.

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1 hour ago, psstein said:

As with everything in academia, it depends how you position it. Braudel's Annales school may be ripe for a comeback.

Love Braudel. I read his history of the Mediterranean more often than I probably should (along with Hegel’s Philosophy of History). 

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1 hour ago, psstein said:

As with everything in academia, it depends how you position it. Braudel's Annales school may be ripe for a comeback.

"Having said all this, I cannot help but note that this prescription conforms broadly to the vision of layers of time developed by Fernand Braudel and the Annales School. He spoke of structures, enduring features – changing glacially if at all, that constrained human action and of events, mere events, that were as numerous as they were fleeting, and powerless to change anything of importance. But in between these two extremes of historical time he located something called conjuncture. Here events and structures came together in fateful ways. Just what happened in this middle range of historical time, where combinations and sequences of action reset what we might call “the course of events” was only sketched out, and this mysterious category of time was often the butt of jokes by less visionary, more down-to-earth historians. Then historians had few allies among the social scientists. Today there are a good number – a critical mass? ‒ of historical social scientists seeking an historicized understanding of this realm where agency and structure confront each other, and, if I am right, a new era in which historians will seek to offer coherent explanations of change in the past."

The great historian Jan de Vries, on "the return from the return to narrative." 

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World history (even when you look at job listings for U.S. historians, many of them specify U.S. and the World. This ties into the continued popularity of transnational and global histories). Public history seems to still be quite popular and also an excellent degree if you're willing to apply for non-academic jobs. Political history has had a slight surge. I think intelligence history is very exciting, but it may end up being absorbed by a more established field like political or diplomatic. I was told that certain kinds of institutional history are becoming popular as well, but I don't know much about that. 

Hard to say if fields in decline (like economic and diplomatic) will continue their decline or have a resurgence, especially 4-6 years from now when most of us will be on the job market.

This article is interesting: https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2015/the-rise-and-decline-of-history-specializations-over-the-past-40-years

Especially this part imo "Among the topical fields, specialists in environmental history and the history of sexuality have the youngest demographic profile, as almost 70 percent of the employed faculty members in those fields earned their highest degrees since 1994 (as compared to 47 percent of all listed faculty in the Directory). Conversely, only about 30 percent of the employed faculty specializing in diplomatic, economic, and intellectual history earned their degrees after 1994.

Among the geographic specialties, European and US history have the oldest demographic profiles, as 41 and 46 percent, respectively, of the specialists in each field earned their highest degrees after 1989 (and more than 13 percent earned their degrees before 1970). In contrast, more than 55 percent of the faculty working in the histories of African, Asian, Latin American, and the Middle East and Islamic world earned their degrees since 1989 (and less than 10 percent in every field earned their degrees before 1970)."

Does this mean that new PhDs in environmental history and the history of sexuality will have a difficult time finding a job because most of the current profs in those fields are nowhere near retiring, or will new positions keep opening up? What does this mean for diplomatic/economic/intellectual historians, Europeanists and Americanists--will these older profs retiring open up jobs, or will those tenure streams close (probably a mix of both, not enough to address the oversaturation of the job market for sure).

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